Excerpt: The Brigand Bride

Excerpt: The Brigand Bride

Book One: Dangerous Masquerade

Madeleine felt herself slowly sinking to the ground, and she rested her forehead on her hands. Why did she feel so faint all of a sudden? It had to be the whiskey, the heat, and her stays. Glenis had laced them far too tightly. She fumbled at her back trying to loosen the laces, but it seemed her fingers were so many thumbs. Her hands fell to her sides, and she slumped against the boulder.

Madeleine had no sense of how long she had lain there when she felt a sharp tug and heard a jagged tearing sound. All she knew was that one moment she could scarcely breathe, then the next she was free.

She gulped in great gasps of air, crying out as she was lifted by strong arms. She tilted her head back, her stunned gaze meeting a pair of smiling gray-green eyes.

“It has always been my belief that those garments should be considered instruments of torture and banned from public use,” Garrett said easily, though his tone belied his concern.

He could not have been more surprised to find Madeleine crumpled behind the boulder. How long had she been there? He had thought he was alone at this jeweled loch. He had just finished dressing and was walking along the shore when he saw her lying there unconscious. He was relieved to see her color return swiftly, her skin blushing a becoming rose shade.

“I’m sorry about your stays, but I think you’re better off without them. Especially on such a blistering hot day as this.” He held her close against his chest as he carried her to the shoreline. “Would you like a sip of water?”

At Madeleine’s quick nod he bent down on one knee and set her beside him on the grass, supporting her with his arm. He cupped his hands and dipped them into the water, then brought them to her lips. She drank thirstily, unaware that most of the water was running down her chin and throat, soaking her filmy white chemise.

Once more he brought cool water to her mouth until she pushed away from him and bent over the loch. She splashed her face and throat, then cupped her hand again and again until her thirst was sated. At last she sat back on her heels, a half smile on her lips as she swept back her damp hair.

“I thank ye,” Madeleine murmured hesitantly and shrugged. “I dinna know what happened. I think ‘twas the heat…” Her voice trailed off, and she looked out over the shimmering loch, embarrassed.

Garrett swallowed hard. His eyes were not on the loch. He stared at her full breasts…high and rounded, perfect. The pink nipples pushed tautly against her drenched chemise, the fabric like transparent gauze upon her skin.

A streak of fire shot through his body, a streak of blazing hunger. How he longed to reach out and cradle a tempting mound, to circle a teasing nub with his thumb, ever so slowly, to feel its hardness and taste its sweetness… She was so close to him, he could feel the heat of her body, could smell the heady scent of her skin, her hair, warmed by the sun.

It happened before he realized what he was doing. He rose to his knees, trancelike, and reached out for her. He crushed her to him, his mouth capturing hers. He heard a roaring in his ears as the blood pumped wildly through his veins, and his fingers caressed a firm breast that seemed to leap into his hand.

Madeleine’s heart jumped to her throat.  Suddenly she was dizzy all over again, her body trembling and quaking, held captive by his overwhelming embrace. She did not think of fighting him. Sweet, aching sensation drove all thought of escape from her.

Fragmented pictures flashed through her awareness: Garrett standing in the middle of the camp, his hair like spun gold in the firelight; Garrett bending over the wash basin, sleek and muscular; Garrett beneath the waterfall, his powerful golden-bronze body wet and gleaming.

The pictures quivered and faded as all her feelings, and all her perception centered on the wonder of his kiss. His lips were both rough and gentle as his tongue demanded entrance and filled her mouth, relentlessly searching. She felt as if she were drowning, the world falling away beneath her. She wanted more, she wanted…

“Madeleine,” Garrett whispered huskily, his loins throbbing with desire. He pulled away and kissed her flushed cheeks, her eyelids, and her lustrous sable lashes. His fingers were twined in her hair. “Sweet, beautiful Maddie, lie down with me…now, here.”

At the sound of her name, Madeleine’s eyes snapped open as if a knife had stabbed her flesh. The sunlight blinded her, forcing her into full consciousness.

God in heaven, what was she doing? Had she gone mad? He was an Englishman, a redcoat! She shoved him so hard he lost his balance and fell sideways, right into the loch. The cold water splashed her in the face, like a chilling slap. She reached down and grabbed for her dirk, but the leather sheath strapped to her thigh was empty.

“I believe this is what you’re looking for,” Garrett said wryly, sprawled in the shallow water. He pulled the dirk halfway from his boot, the silver hilt flashing in the sun. “Before I removed your corset, I thought it best to confiscate your weapon.” He laughed shortly. “Just in case you might object to my offer of assistance.”

“Ye son of a whore!” Madeleine hissed, her eyes narrowed. “Give it to me.”

He merely shook his head in answer. He looked at her steadily, his lips drawn into a tight line.

She wiped her mouth, then spat upon the ground. “That’s what I think of ye and yer kind assistance. Dinna come near me again, Captain Marshall, or I swear ye’ll regret it!”

She wheeled around, nearly stumbling, and hurried over to the boulder, where she quickly donned her petticoat and gown. All the while she kept her eyes on Garrett, who hadn’t moved an inch. Finally she grabbed her shoes and stockings, shoving them under one arm, and swept her tattered stays from the ground.

“And I’ll tell ye something else, Captain Marshall,” she said hotly, stamping a bare foot. “If ye pride yerself on yer kisses, ye might know this: I’ve had better!”

She held up her skirt and set off running along the shore. Although she did not once look back, she could feel him watching her.

She had lied.

Dougald had kissed her before, but it had never been like this. Never.

Her skin was still ablaze from Garrett’s caresses, and her lips were on fire. His heat remained…a burning ache, a hint of rapture.

She ran as fast as her legs would carry her back to the manor house, as if she could escape the haunting memory.